Criticism of the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk practices have come from a wide range of elected officials and advocacy groups across the city. Now, in an effort to bolster the campaign for increased police accountability, dozens of organizations are joining forces under the umbrella of one campaign that aims to make the topic of police reform a major one in the upcoming mayoral election.
The new coalition, Communities United for Police Reform, or CPR, is officially launching this month with a "Week of Action" starting Sunday and has already brought together, thus far, around 30 organizations that support the cause.
Earlier this month, the Voice ran a cover story on the city's controversial policy, which allowed cops to stop more than 600,000 people in 2010. The largest age group is males 15 to 19, the majority of New Yorkers stopped are black and Hispanic, and overall, only nine percent of the stops result in arrests.
This latest push to bring stop-and-frisk reform talk into the forefront also has strong support from some in the City Council, notably vocal NYPD critic Councilman Jumaane Williams -- who is proposing legislation that would require cops to give out business cards when they stop people.
This morning, Runnin' Scared caught up with a representative from one of the partner organizations to discuss the larger goals of this initiative and how the groups came together.
"A lot of our organizations have relationships with each other and have been doing work around police reform accountability for years," said Yul-san Liem, a member of an organization called the Justice Committee, which is one of the steering committees of CPR.
"At this point...we recognize that it's an epidemic," she said of stop-and-frisk. "It's time to come together in a very coordinated multi-sectored way to demand that the problem be changed."
The glaring statistics are a major motivating factor for the effort, she said. "All of the organizations in CPR feel like the new stop-and-frisk statistics are an outrage."
This kind of diverse, unified effort -- that is bringing together research, outreach, education, and policy experts -- is unprecedented in the push for police accountability in the city, Liem said. "This is the first time this kind of work is so tightly coordinated across sectors."
Stop-and-frisk is the central target of the campaign, though Liem said there are many other related concerns such as the NYPD's policies relating to the homeless and police treatment of LGBT New Yorkers.
At a press conference on education this afternoon, Runnin' Scared stopped Councilman Robert Jackson -- who is very likely to run for Manhattan borough president -- and asked him his thoughts on the campaign.
"What it does is it helps to bring focus to the issue. It helps bring transparency and hopefully will bring more accountability," Jackson said, adding that this kind of effort is especially important given the latest controversy around the NYPD spying on Muslim student groups.
After we asked him how he thought this campaign could impact the 2013 mayoral elections, he said, "It will become an issue, and I think that mayoral candidates are going to have to speak up and ask for transparency and accountability and not in essence spying on people just because of their religions. That's a no-brainer."
Liem said that influencing elections is an important part of the new campaign. "We want...New Yorkers to demand that this be a big issue in the coming 2013 mayoral race. We will be letting folks know where candidates stand on the issue, demanding that candidates speak up about the issue. We are in this for the long haul."
Not all City Council members have been cheering the effort. Queens Councilman Peter Vallone wrote on his Facebook page yesterday, in reference to the death of a child in a drive-by shooting: "i ask the electeds who oppose "stop and question" , please explain to little armando and his parents, and parents throughout the city - if police should not stop and question someone who they reasonably suspect to have a gun, how would you get that gun off the street BEFORE the drive-by happens?? i understand it's controversial and needs to be closely monitored for abuse, but if you want to end it, what is your alternative for the NYPD??? is it just watching the videotape? hopefully the press asks THAT question at the next press conference..."
We thought we'd asked Liem that question -- what about public safety and getting guns off the street? She responded that stop-and-frisk in its current form harms police-community relations: "It's actually a detriment to community safety... At this point, we have young people who are afraid to walk to school and that's not okay."
Runnin' Scared reached out to the NYPD for a response to the campaign. We'll update if we hear back.